HENDERSON'S UNION DEPOT: A wealth of memories

They remember the beautiful marble floors and the woodwork.

They remember the Ladies' Waiting Room and a bustling freight office that handled shipments of everything from the U.S. mail to garments freshly manufactured by the Betty Main Dress Factory to crates of baby chickens.

They remember happy occasions when they went on a trip, or sadder times when they sent a loved one away.

They remember Henderson's Union Depot, where presidential candidates made whistle stops and soldiers left for war.

The Gleaner recently asked readers for memories of the old train station, and there are many.

Sam WAHL remembers going there frequently with his grandfather, Isaac W. "Ike" GINGELL, who had the contract to deliver the mail from the post office to the train station.

"My grandfather had four or five Model T Ford delivery trucks with wire cages and side curtains, with a great big government lock on the cage," WAHL said, adding that his three uncles, Charlie, Forrest and Isaac W. Jr. (Dub) served as drivers for the mail trucks.

"I can distinctively remember the big old 45 caliber revolver with the extra half moon clips of ammunition lying in the seat," WAHL said, adding what it was good for. "In those days robbers would try to hold up the mail trucks. They would hop on the running board, but looking down the barrel of that old 45 was all it took to discourage them.

WAHL said that sometimes he was allowed to go with his grandfather and uncles. "He would place me in the rear on top of all those big canvas bags. Then he would lock me in the cage with the mail and drive to the depot," said WAHL, who would have been about 5 years old.

"When we arrived he would place the mail bags on the big steel wheeled carts with me also, and pull the carts out between the tracts where we would wait for the trains to come in," he said. "Those trains were big, blowing steam and braking to stop. I thought I was so brave to sit there on the mail carts with so much noise. Sometimes the trains came in from both directions, and that was scary."

WAHL said that people today don't realize how much mail, freight and passengers came into the depot in those days.

But Dixon DAVIS of Henderson does, because he worked as an agent for Henderson Railway Express at the station for about 10 years during the 1940s.

He recalls shipping - and receiving - all kinds of things from the depot, including the belongings of POWs at Camp Breckinridge, goods bound for Louisville from the Eclipse Laundry - even livestock.

DAVIS recalls the time during the war that units of the 101st Airborne Division arrived at the depot and there was no transportation available to them, so they walked all the way to Camp Breckinridge.

"You'd be shocked at the number of people who would bring their children out there," DAVIS said, explaining that it was a form of entertainment to see who was coming and going.

He describes the inside as beautiful, with a small restaurant, where the proprietor packed up sandwiches and took them out to passengers on the inbound and outbound trains.

Nancy C. TAYLOR of Henderson remembers that snack bar, as well as something that impressed her the very first and only time she saw it - the Ladies Waiting Room.

As a child in the 1950s, Mrs. TAYLOR was going home on the train with her grandmother, Sebree resident Nell Davis GRIFFEY, when she first encountered that special place.

Her grandmother commuted by train frequently, and it was on one of those outings that Mrs. TAYLOR begged to go along.

So early the next morning she was in her best dress, knee socks and "Sunday coat," and her grandmother wore her best dress, cotton hose and fox fur stole when they were given a ride to Union Station.

"We got our tickets and grandmother announced we were going to the "Ladies Waiting Room," Mrs. TAYLOR recalls. "It seemed real big with long open windows and a shiny black and white floor. There were benches to sit on and there we waited for our train. My grandmother was very big on being a lady."

Later that evening, the child became homesick, so her grandmother promised to take her home the next morning.

"We repeated the getting-dressed process and the walk back to the Sebree depot and back to the beautiful Ladies Waiting Room to wait for my mother, Annell COWAN, to pick us up." Mrs. TAYLOR said, recalling that journey via the train has taken less than 24 hours.

"I will always remember this trip, for as much as I loved my grandmother, her place was lonely and I never made any more overnight trips there," she said. "But that one trip gave me a glimpse of the Ladies Waiting Room at the Henderson Depot I shall never forget."

There are other happy memories of meeting up with grandparents at the station.

Etta I. Barron JENKINS, Christine Barron VAUGHN and Thomas BARRON used to end up there every summer after traveling from their home in Cannelton, Indiana.

"(Dad and Mom) would pack my clothes and my older brother and sister's clothes in boxes because we couldn't afford a suitcase. They would put us on the train at Hawesville and send us to Henderson to spend the summer with our grandparents," said Mrs. JENKINS.

"I remember getting off the train and seeing our granny and granddaddy. We were so happy to see them," she said. "How big the Union Depot looked to us! We made that trip a lot and will never forget it."

Frances BULLOCK of Henderson has childhood memories every time she sees the depot. "I would spend the night with my grandmother on the weekend (she lived directly across from the depot at the end of Third Street)," Mrs. BULLOCK said. "I'd go to the depot for chips and a coke and watch the people leaving and coming in on the trans."

At age 17, she got to take a train trip herself - from Cincinnati to Henderson where she'd been to visit her aunt. "I was so homesick and so happy to see my mother standing at the depot waiting for me," she said.

Kathleen HUST has a soft spot for the depot as well, all because of a train trip she and her girlfriend Patsy took on a hot summer night in 1943.

"I was one of those people who for the first time boarded a train at Union Station in an open coach with a fire-burning engine," she said.

It was their first train ride, but it didn't take them long to realize why all the windows in the hot coach wee up - the smoke and soot came pouring in.

After two days with relatives in Chicago they returned to Henderson. "It was exciting to pull into the station," she said. "We both felt so important," she added, noting that it was a social sport in that era to see who got off the train.

Kathleen Henning MAYNARD of Henderson recalls creating a commotion in the depot when she was 6 years old. She and her grandmother were coming back from Ohio County where they'd been to visit relatives, and Ms. MAYNARD was bringing home a half-grown chicken that she'd been given during her visit.

"It was in a small basket and sat on my lap all the way to Henderson. The conductor would pass by and stop to talk and pet the chick," she said. "Everything was fine until we got to the depot. My granny told me to go in and wait for her to get the luggage.

"I sat on the beautiful oak seats and set the basket and the children by me," Ms. MAYNARD continued. "All of a sudden it flew off and was running and flying everywhere in the depot with feathers flying."

Two or three men caught the children and brought it back to her and told her to hold onto it, but her grandmother was upset with her.

Jo LOGAN said that through the years her mother, Anna Stiles BROWN, related her fond memories of the Henderson railroad depot in the early 1930s when she was a student in Irvington, Kentucky.

"She was a member of the Irvington High School girls basketball team and a loyal fan of the boys team," Mrs. LOGAN said. "They frequently played tournaments in Henderson and would travel by train from the Irvington station (where her father - my grandfather - was station master) to the Henderson station.

"From there they would walk to Barret Manual Training High School (now the Housing Authority offices) or to the Soaper Hotel where they always stayed," Mrs. LOGAN said. "Following the tournament they walked back to the depot to await the train that would take them home."

Some never got a train to take them back home.

Janet Melton POWELL remembers going to the station in 1944 (when she was 14 years old) to bid farewell to her uncle, Robert DIXON, who had been home on furlough before he was to be sent overseas to Europe.

"He was the fourth of five sons of my grandparents, we were all serving in various branches of the military, as well as my two brothers (their only grandsons)," Mrs. POWELL said.

"After lots of hugs and goodbyes, Bob boarded the train and as he waved to us my grandmother turned to me and said, 'I'll never see him again,' she recalls. She sadly, was proven right, for in the spring of 1945 he was wounded on the battlefield and died in a London hospital, at the young age of 24."

Paul WESTERMAN of Sebree, also a World War II Veteran, was a lot luckier. He made plenty of arrivals and departures at Union Station during his years in the service. "It was a sad time for lots of people, but it was a war and everyone had to do what they were called upon to do," WESTERMAN said, recalling the times that he was separated at the station from his young wife, Edna. A lot of service people used that depot."

Reprinted with permission
The Gleaner, Henderson, KY, Sunday, March 28, 1999
By Donna Stinnett

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 1996 HCH&GS